Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Class and Voting: Chavismo and Bushismo

Who Votes for Chavismo? Class Voting in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela

Noam Lupu, Latin American Research Review, forthcoming

Abstract: The conventional wisdom about contemporary Venezuelan politics is that class voting has become commonplace, the poor doggedly supporting Hugo Chavez while the rich oppose him. This class voting is seen as both a new feature of Venezuelan politics and a puzzle given the multiclass bases of prior populist leaders in Latin America. I clarify the concept of class voting by distinguishing between monotonic and non-monotonic associations between class and vote choice. Using survey data, I find that only in Chavez's first election in 1998 was class voting monotonic. Since then, class voting in Venezuela has been non-monotonic, with the very wealthiest Venezuelans disproportionately voting against Chavez. At the same time, Chavez's support appears to have increased most among the middle classes, not the poor. Finally, I find that whatever effect Chavez may have had on overall turnout, his efforts have not disproportionately mobilized poor voters.


State Income Inequality and Presidential Election Turnout and Outcomes

James Galbraith & Travis Hale, Social Science Quarterly, December 2008, Pages 887-901

Objective: This study examines the links among income inequality, voter turnout, and electoral choice at the state level in recent presidential elections.
Methods: We introduce two new state-level ecological data sets, estimated annual Gini coefficients of income inequality from 1969 to 2004 and a measure of income segregation across Census tracts within states in 1999. We test for associations among inequality, turnout, and party preference with cross-sectional, fixed-effects, and multilevel analyses.
Results: The cross-sectional effect of inequality on voter turnout and electoral choice is ambiguous. However, a fixed-effects analysis links higher income inequality to lower voter turnout and also to a stronger Democratic vote. Multilevel results indicate that higher levels of economic segregation likewise are associated with depressed turnout, after controlling for individual voter characteristics and for state-level income.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Institute for Justice Study

A new IJ study, one that I was privileged to write. Lots of good support in editing and packaging from the IJ folks, I have to admit. They do a first rate job.

Americans were once free to speak about politics without asking permission from the government or being forced to document their political activities for the authorities. But under the guise of “campaign finance reform,” government regulation of political speech has metastasized, spreading far beyond the mere financing of campaigns to monitor and control everyday political speech by ordinary citizens.

The latest wave of such regulation is state and federal laws targeting so-called “electioneering communications.” The term is most closely associated with the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known popularly as McCain-Feingold, and describes broadcast ads that merely mention a federal candidate and that air shortly before an election. For the first time in American history, federal law brought such speech and the groups that engage in it under the regulatory control of the government.

Best Signs in the World--2

Here is a very fine sign, near an American military base in Germany: I would imagine that this command applies especially, though not exclusively, to those people who actually HAVE dogs....On the other hand, apparently the troops are allowed to fill their housing areas with cow or turtle excrements, if they so desire. Rules can seem so arbitrary, don't you think?

(Nod to Martin, who fills his housing area with sturm und drang, though in a tasteful and friendly way)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Zoooh (as the Germans say), I went with the YYM to a movie today here in Erlangen. Transformers. (I should note that that web site is EXACTLY a rip-off of the Starcraft web site maintained by Blizzard, ten years ago)

On the German movie experience:

1. Assigned seats. No, really.
2. Unbelievably outrageous prices. Just like the U.S. in other words. Equivalent of $12 US for a ticket. Interestinglz, they price higher on weekends.
3. You can get a combo deal (menü) that is downright American, also. A giant (1.5 liter Pepsi Leight and a huge bucket o'popcorn. For about $11 US. No ice in the drink, though, so of course it is warm pretty fast. If you are going for the giant American style drink you have to cough up for the ice, I think.
4. After 10 minutes of previews, the curtain closes, the lights come up, and the theater comes in with a bucket of candy. He asks if everyone is okay, ready to start? People yell, "JAAAAH!" He goes back out. Then ten more minutes of trailers.
5. At this point about ten people come in, in the dark. the YYM and I had moved, because our ridiculous assigned seats were in the only row that had people in it. Apparently they sell one row at a time, in case there is a last minute rush from an arriving aircraft carrier. We had to get up, and find other seats, because bizarrely we happened to sit in the seats assigned to the rational late-comers.
6. A solid 25 minutes after the movie is supposed to start, it starts. Of course, it is Transformers. Having it be in German is a blessing. I am free to think that I have no idea what is going on because of the language barrier. If it were in English I would know that I had no idea what was going because it actually makes no sense.
7. After 80 minutes, the curtain closes, and the lights come up. Intermission. No, really.
8. AFter 10 minutes, lights go back down, and the movie starts, going on for another 70 minutes.

On the movie: it would have been dramatically improved by cutting out a full hour. I'm not exaggerating. It is an hour too long. At one point, the hero stops to talk to the SHC who is running with him toward the amazingly nonsensical conclusion. It has taken them at least a minute to move 100 meters, under violent attack from every quarter, for the last ten minutes. In other words, they have moved maybe a kilometer in ten minutes. They peer ahead. Hero says to Smokin' Hot Chick (Megan Fox), "We only have another 3 kilometers to go!" Audience actually groans and laughs, loudly. I have never seen that reaction before.

It is pretty clear who the target audience of this movie is. Here is a pic of Megan Fox, the main SHC. She is "painting" the motorcycle, in her dad's motorcycle shop. And, if you have been to a motorcycle chop shop, then you know that this is just how the workers look, dress, and position themselves to paint. JUST like this.

Biggest stars of the movie:
A. Megan Fox's breasts (they appear in nearly every non-exploding scene, and many exploding scenes.
B. The two "Jar Jar in a Car Car" transformers, though in the German dubbing they just had high pitched voices, like Ewoks.
C. The U.S. military. It was practically a commercial. Brave. Excellent tech weapons. The scenes with the planes, and the foot soldiers who never retreat, and then the hovercraft tank carriers....made you want to join.
D. Chevrolet. It straight up WAS a commercial.
E. The enormous destroyer Decepticon transformer. It had a giant pair of wrecking balls, right where a mammal that size would have...well, a giant pair of wrecking balls.

Things that should be shot over, or maybe just shot: A. The theme that bad government officials ruin everything. The fact is that bad is the ONLZ* kind of government official there is. Of COURSE they ruin everything. B. The plot. Incredibly bad. C. The editing. Leave an hour of this turkey behind, and it would be a lot more watchable.

My favorite review: It’s like watching a blender for two hours while someone shouts at you. And then the last half an hour is the same, except it’s more like having your head strapped to a washing machine while you watch a blender and someone shouts at you. And that guy LIKED the movie.

Still, I have to admit, I liked it too. It is a terrible movie, but it hardly pretends to be anything other than what it is. It is comic book set to massive sound and music, with several SHCs, and tremendous special effects. It's worth seeing. If you are male and 16, it may be worth seeing twice.

*darned german keyboard!

UPDATE: As commenter NP points out, here is a better review. What HE said. That's what I think, now, too.

Earmarks and Rules

Determinants of the distribution of congressional earmarks across states
Melissa Boyle & Victor Matheson, Economics Letters, August 2009, Pages 63-65

Abstract: This paper examines pork-barrel spending within states and finds that per
capita earmarked funding is correlated with the inverse of a state's population, the presence of a Republican Congressional delegation, and the tenure of a state's senior Senator.


Administrative Procedures and Bureaucratic Performance: Is Federal
Rule-making "Ossified"?
Jason Webb Yackee & Susan Webb Yackee, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, forthcoming

Abstract: We provide the first empirical assessment of the ossification thesis, the widely accepted notion that procedural constraints on federal agencies have greatly hindered the ability of those agencies to formulate policy through notice and comment rule-making. Using data that cover all active federal rule-writing agencies from 1983 to 2006, our results largely disconfirm the ossification thesis. Agencies appear readily able to issue a sizeable number of rules and to do so relatively quickly. Indeed, our empirical results suggest that procedural constraints may actually speed up the promulgation of rules, though our model suggests that this positive effect may decline, or even reverse, as proposed rules age. We conclude that procedural constraints do not appear to unduly interfere with the ability of federal agencies to act, or in most cases, to act in a timely manner.

(Nod to Kevin L, who always finds the coolest stuff)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Grand Game

It's been a while since we played the "Grand Game," where we at KPC post a news story, or blog entry, from some other source, and ask readers to point out the most amazing or outrageous part of the story.

Here's today's story:

(CNN) -- Monica Conyers, Detroit's embattled City Council president pro tempore, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to commit bribery, a federal court representative in Michigan told CNN.

Detroit City Council member, Monica Conyers, admits accepting bribes to sway a $1.2 billion contract vote.

My own picks for most amazing outrageous:

1. The mood was somber at Conyers' office on Friday, an official there told CNN. Really?

2. According to state law, Conyers will have to forfeit her seat, Tolliver said. Cockrel said there's language in the law that makes it unclear whether she needs to forfeit her seat immediately or after sentencing

"It hurts the City Council's image, for sure," Cockrel said.
Let's see, she pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to change her vote on the city council. And now they act like the only problem is some obscure state law that says she will have to forfeit her seat? Soon? I would HOPE so. As for "hurting the city council's image"....Jeh*vah, Jeh*vah, Jeh*vah! Like in Monty Python, how could it POSSIBLY get any worse? The only way the Detroit City Council could have a worse image is if they admitted to cannibalism.

Lots of other stuff to pick from. After all, this fine woman is the wife of John Conyers, my FAVE-o-rite US Congressman.

And, she is 44; that means John Conyers (He is *80*) took office in the U.S. House in 1965, the year his wife was BORN.

Finally, the ethics-minded Mr. Conyers wrote, "The Constitution in Crisis," because of his concern about good government. Perhaps now he will write, "My Wife Stole a Bunch of Stuff." Because, friends, that is just the kind of guy he is.

(Nod to RL)

Friday, June 26, 2009

And Iran, Iran so far away...Couldn't get away

John Lewis on Pajamas TV, discussing Iran. Interesting interview.

Michael Jackson died....

Michael Jackson died.

We were exactly the same age. Now he is much older.

For some reason, this struck me as very sad. The most common words in his obits (I have read at least 10 now) are "increasingly odd" and "freakish."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Schuhbeck's Orlando in Munich: A Very Fine Restaurant

As part of the service here at KPC (motto: "Where You ALWAYS Get What You Pay For!"), we do offer selective restaurant reviews. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Well, here's one that is good: Schuhbeck's Orlando. Bizarrely, it is located in the same platz that fronts the Hofbräuhaus .

And, you should go to the Hofbräu, to see the Americans be Americans. It is quite a display. Embarrassing to BE an American, but entertaining. I'd say just have a liter, and a big brezel (they are overpriced, but quite good). Then go for a walk over to the English Garden to build up an appetite for dinner.

And then have dinner at Orlando. It is 40 meters north of the Hofbräuhaus, and a world away. They have Augustiner Weissbier (!!) on tap, as well as Konig Ludwig Dunkel. (Again, !!) A fine wine list. The speisekarte is extensive, and quirky. I had "Orlando's Pan," a truly odd but wonderful mixture of vegetables, meats, and a salad. Kind of a mixed grill, not too much of anything, a delightful combination of flavors and textures. Lots of classics on the menu, and they all looked good. The LMM did her usual menu rewrite ("I want the chicken and rice, hold the chicken and rice, and give me some steamed vegetables"), and the waitress came through very well.

The desserts were rich, and delicious. Not too large, just very well done. Again, beautifully presented, different textures, wonderful.

The atmosphere is clean, elegant....makes you feel good after the nut-scene at the Hofbräu.

Laptop Toughness Tests....And a Monitor Plays Butch Cassidy

Loyal reader and acerbic commenter BR sends this link: Laptop Toughness Test

It is interesting to go shoot stuff, and to see what happens. Did you ever see this?

Then, the actual last scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Dos hombres? DOS HOMBRES?

Health Care Article....

An article I missed, back in the N&O in Raleigh. By my friend and ex-student Don Taylor, at the Sanford Institute.

Excerpt: DURHAM -- In my health policy class at Duke, I teach students two "laws" that govern all health systems: (1) Everyone dies; the only questions are when and from what? and (2) before that, the healthy subsidize the sick.

The first law is inescapable. Making the second function is the essence of health policy. These two laws hold true in Canada. The U.K. Germany. Japan. The U.S. Medicare program. Duke University's private employee plans, and every Blue Cross and Blue Shield group plan sold in North Carolina. In fact, the reason you have heard discussion of the State Employees Health Plan this spring is because Law 2 above was no longer functioning because there were too few healthy state employees and dependents subsidizing the sick ones.

The whole article is interesting. My own view is that the problem is NOT that there are too few healthy subsidizing too many sick. The problem is that there are too many demands that health care "should be" free, and so it is expensive. Our system is focused on providing expensive cure, not cheap prevention.

Look, I have auto insurance, but it doesn't pay for oil changes. People need to pay more of their own costs, not in money terms but in basic maintenance and lifestyle choices. Get off your fat ass, put down the potato chips, and go for a walk.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interesting Tool: Snapstream

A tool for graphing, over most any period, the frequency of occurrence of words or short phrases in the media.

For example, here is the graph for "Libertarian" in 2008.


(Nod to Kevin L)

North Carolina Criminalizes Thought

The state of North Carolina has deputized teachers at public schools all over the state, forcing them to try to read the minds of children. (Assuming the Gov signs the bill, and she will)

If you see a fight in the school yard, you as a teacher must try to put your hand on the bigger kid's forehead, and do a Vulcan Mind Meld. If you detect any of the following illegal thoughts:

Dislike or bad feelings based on "Race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability or association with a person who has or is perceived to have any of those characteristics."

If you detect these feelings, or think you do, or imagine that you might, then the punishment for bullying is different than if none of these are detected. So, you tell the kid being bullied, "Hey, punk, go wipe the blood off your nose. You are not a special protected category, with wealthy friends in the legislature. So, if you don't get out of my face, I the teacher am going smack you again. Stop your whining."

You can find this whole remarkable bill, right here.

My own thoughts:
1. The state cannot protect children in the schools from violence. Our schools are falling apart, our teachers are overworked, and have very few resources. Adding this burden of mind-reading to teachers is not going to help. It is simply a feel-good measure for the left. The bill is clearly unenforceable, and the cynical supporters know that. They can pass the bill, knowing that it does nothing to protect children from the real bullying that happens every day in the schools (mis)managed by the state.

2. There are actual, real rights being denied to gay men and women in NC. I find it incredible that committed same sex couples are being denied the right sign a basic marriage contract. But supporting bills like this, that single out gay people for SPECIAL rights, rights denied the little kids who happen not to be in a particular category, is counterproductive. That is, passing this bill HURTS the gay and lesbian cause in NC, because straight potential allies will now see gay rights as special rights, not human rights.

A mistake, this legislation. I hate it. I'm not surprised it passed, given the lack of leadership in the Dem party in NC, but I hate it. I mean, just read this account from the News and Observer (and I believe the reporters have this right):

Students and administrators might as well be living on different planets when it comes to school bullying.

Students say it is common for bullies to taunt and hit them or their classmates, and for teachers to do little to stop it. Superintendents and principals say that bullying is a small problem and that policies to discourage it work well.

Into the divide comes a bill that awaits Gov. Beverly Perdue's signature to make it law. The bill is meant to protect students who are harassed for reasons such as race, religion or disabilities. It also would protect students from being tormented because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.

Who cares WHY the kids are being tormented? We need a policy to stop the torment. While we are at it, let's have a policy to reduce gravity, also. I was a little fat kid. I got teased, and tormented, a LOT because I was a little fat kid. Pushed down, beaten up, had my lunch money taken. And, gravity affected me more than the other kids. Gravity DISCRIMINATED against me, singling out the fat kids to make them weigh more, run slower, jump less, all sorts of things that made me sad.

You can't have a policy to make kids like each other, any more than you can reduce gravity. The teachers might be able to keep better discipline, if the public schools would let the teachers actually run the school, like in a charter or private school. But teacher are prevented by policy from actually exercising discpline.

This new law just means that teachers will have to fill out police reports, after the fact, and using Vulcan Mind Meld. Damn.

An Interesting Video: Libertarians Can't Win?

Peter Schiff of CT issues a challenge:

Libertarians have never won anything.
To matter, Libertarians have to take over the Republicans.
As an ex-Republican, I am not so sure.

Iranian Non-Election

Good friend, and ex-student, Josh Koster has an interesting Esquire article.

And, he did play a small role in the world media non-reporting of the Iranian non-election. He did manage to help pull down this web site for a bit:

I'm pretty sure someone important once said something about evil winning when good people do nothing. It seemed, at least to this (somewhat liberal, somewhat skeptical, but not emotionally so) activist, that the evil in Iran had begun to win because the watchdogs were acting like lapdogs. So I decided it was time to cut off the flow of false information and force them to, you know, report. If Ahmadinejad's propaganda machine stopped functioning, maybe the truth would start to. Twitter can stop and start at the same time.

The link that I repackaged and distributed on Twitter this week was to a tool called PageReboot.com. It does exactly what you'd expect it to do: refresh whatever Web site you want at whatever frequency you set. Sure, the site's intentions center more on winning eBay auctions than, say, affecting the outcome of a democratic election, but democracy's a loose term in Iran. All people had to do, then, was click my link and leave it open, and the lie-spewing servers of The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) would be slammed 3,600 times an hour.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Econtalk: Franchises

Had a fine time talking with good bud Russ Roberts, about franchises, and car sales.

Give a listen....

Not Sure About This....

This photo has made its way around the interwebs. Variously attributed, to different cities, but always to a "Walmart parking lot."

I find myself wondering how it all worked out, viewed from the front. Not a lot of "lifts and separates" in upside down men's briefs with the crotch cut out.

A Cookie for your guess....

"...the Certificate of Hawaiian Birth was issued based on ***'s typewritten testimony, rather than on any documentation from witnesses... After receiving a few years of local school, at age thirteen, *** went to live in Honolulu...*** enrolled in Oahu College (now Punahou School) for further studies for one semester, from which he graduated. He was soon sent home to *****, but he returned to Hawaii at least twice, in **** and ****...In ****, his alleged birth in Hawaii was certified. He applied for naturalization and became a citizen of the United States and was issued an American passport...*** attached particular importance to the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln...He incorporated these ideas, later in life, in two highly influential books...His ideology remained flexible, however, reflecting his audience as much as his personal convictions...It is an open matter of debate whether this eclecticism reflected a sincere effort to incorporate ideas from the multiple competing schools of thought or was simply opportunistic posturing." [Wikipedia]

Sun Yat Sen, of course. And if you knew that, here's your cookie.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Faculty Turtles, and Media Relations

I have an article in this week's CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, "No Turtles: Faculty Media Relations."

You may like it....

Hotel Sublim Eiffel in Paris

The hotel where we stayed in Paris was small, completely anti-geometric, and strange. And we ended up liking it a lot. Sublim Eiffel, on Bd. Garibaldi, in the 15th. Just check the pix on the web site. Somehow, it works.

1. Location. Exactly on the Metro, across the street from the Sèvres Lecourbe stop on the 6 line train. Easy walk to lots of places to eat, several small groceries with wine and other necessities, and a short trip to lots of shopping.

2. Staff. Amazingly friendly and cheerful. Not all of them spoke perfect English, but if there was a problem they would find someone who DID speak English. Now, the staff was better at sympathizing with problems than with fixing them. But...good staff. Quick with more towels, great at answering many questions, even complex ones, about the city.

3. Colors and Layout. The hotel has very few right angles. The rooms are curved, and the showers are...well, the showers are complex. Lights, sound, water from five different possible sources, choosing some or all at once.

The sink... The bed The loo...(yes, that is bright pink toilet paper)

Anyway, we stayed there three nights. Terrific breakfasts, and the whole thing really grew on us. We started out feeling like we were on Mars, and ended up wanting to be Martians.

Regimes and the Rule of Law

Regimes and the Rule of Law: Judicial Independence in Comparative Perspective

Gretchen Helmke & Frances Rosenbluth, Annual Review of Political Science, 2009, Pages 345-366

According to popular wisdom, judicial independence and the rule of law are essential features of modern democracy. Drawing on the growing comparative literature on courts, we unpack this claim by focusing on two broad questions: How does the type of political regime affect judicial independence? Are independent courts, in fact, always essential for establishing the rule of law? In highlighting the role of institutional fragmentation and public opinion, we explain why democracies are indeed more likely than dictatorships to produce both independent courts and the rule of law. Yet, by also considering the puzzle of institutional instability that
marks courts in much of the developing world, we identify several reasons why democracy may not always prove sufficient for constructing either. Finally, we argue that independent courts are not always necessary for the rule of law, particularly where support for individual rights is relatively widespread.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free! Fearing Aix-en-Provence...

A friend responds to the story about the Stolen Euro and the Shopping Cart....(The answer to her first question is this: At the Frankfurt flughafen, the carts are free.)

How hilarious! Yes, the carts! It usually begins at the airport (how did you avoid that?) And yes, they want their money back! Usually, we put the money in and then for whatever the reason, the cart won't come free, so we just jerk on it and make a really interesting American scene.
Also, have you come across any grocery stores (you'd have to be in car for this) where you do your shopping (involving cart there or your own pushcart) and then to get OUT of the parking lot you must have your grocery receipt and key in a code at a gate to get out. The first time this happened to us, we got to the gate, saw the keypad and {husband} said, "I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do with this." Cars lined up behind up and blew their horns (no one was there to tell us what to do.)
{son} just sat in the back like "I'm glad I'm not old enough to have a driver's license yet, so none of this involves me. I don't even know if I really know the man driving our car." Someone behind us real ly lay on the horn and {husband} swung open his car door and walked back to the folks behind us." He came back and said (kind of frantically), "we have to have the receipt. Give it to me."
I said, "I don't know where it is." He said, "You had it." Me: "I didn't. Where did you put it?" (Horns blowing loudly.)
{husband} said, "I feel like just plowing through this gate." {son} said, "Cool." I looked through the bags for the receipt. I found it on the floor, wadded up (I guess I'd stepped on it--it was raining out and the numbers were blurred. Plus the code to push wasn't exactly easily found as there were several code looking numbers on the paper.
{husband} grabbed the receipt and punched in a number. Nothing happened. A person in the car behind us, or behind them, or further back, who knows---appeared at {husband}'s window. {husband} shrugged that said, "I don't know what the hell to do." The person looked that the receipt, pointed to a code on the paper, showing {husband}, and then keyed it in. The gate (or bar ) lifted. {son} shouted, "We're free!" We thanked the man, said we we re sorry (in our lovely French) and sped away in a heavy sweat. That was at Aix-en-Provence and to this day the name of the city makes us nervous. :)

Best Signs in the World--1

A new feature here at KPC, one I hope that we will be able to keep up with, is: Best Signs in the World! We may need help from sharp-eyed readers, but then we usually get that.

To start out, let me present a pair of signs, in front of a bar, in Erlangen, Germany. Have to credit the sharp-eyed LMM for this one. Well done, dear. The sign on the left says, "Tonight: Karaoke!" The sign on the right says, "Cocktails to go, only 4 Euro!"

Karaoke talent a little scarce in these parts, maybe?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The YYM in Europe

Several visions of the YYM on our travels.

On the "Jackie Chan Slideway"
In the Paris Metro
On the back deck of my landlord's house, having coffee, croissants, and a really great fruit tort.
Checking some email in the Eric Voegelin Archiv. (Note the NRA t-shirt)

Movie from atop the Arc

I took a short movie from atop the Arc de Triomphe. We had noticed that many of the largest streets and interchanges in Paris had no lanes. As I say in the little video, they would just be a distraction.

On the other hand, we also didn't see any accidents. So the chaos system is not actually chaos. But neither is it government-controlled, in any important sense. (I suppose the gendarmes would come if there was a fight, and a tow truck would come if there were casualties, but that's it).

If you just leave people alone, they can figure stuff out.

Anarchy is not chaos!

200 Euro for "Flagging" a Toilet

So, a guy (a 23 year old official of the SPD) was charged 200 Euro for a silly stunt, putting a German flag in a toilet and photographing it, and THEN putting the picture up on the internet.

Here's the story, which I can only find in German. The last line of the story says it all. My (crude) translation would be: "In a "mood of beer", he and a friend had come on the idea to publish this picture."

The picture? I can't find a copy on the interwebs. Anybody got one? DON'T publish it, just send me the link. I don't want to be charged with the crime.

The crime? "Verunglimpfung von Staatssymbolen," or disparaging symbols of the State.

How about if I disparage the State ITSELF? Then what?

Let's see. "Hey, State! Your breath smells bad, and your Oma had a mustache."

Or, maybe just linking this product, here. Notice that I do not advocate buying the product, and I certainly do not link a picture. (I looked for the American flag equivalent, and all I found was a bunch of sites that had been taken down, pictures removed. A little scary, actually. Will just searching for "American flag toilet paper" put me on a watch list? This was RESEARCH, mind you. I don't want to buy any....)

If this is my last post, you will all know what happened. 'viedersehn!

UPDATE: A link. Not terribly offensive, but then I am not very protective of symbols of the state. (a nod to TC, for the link)

Teaching Students to Hate Mathematics

S dM sends this link.

An excerpt....

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soulcrushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Everyone knows that something is wrong. The politicians say, “we need higher standards.” The schools say, “we need more money and equipment.” Educators say one thing, and teachers say another. They are all wrong. The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students. They say, “math class is stupid and boring,” and they are right.

My elder son, Kevin, is a math major. And he likes math. Fortunately, he largely lives (as I do, also) inside his own head. So it didn't really matter how he was taught. Also, to be fair, he had some pretty good math teachers in middle school and high school.

But I hear SO many kids say that they don't like math, or that they "can't do" math. Fact is, they couldn't possibly know.



Greg Mankiw points out a complacency. In an interview with Paul Samuelson.

(Nod to Craig N's Door)

Do-Don'ts: Visiting Paris Without Enough Time

I will surely not pretend to write a "Best and Worst of Paris" post. Don't know enough, wasn't there long enough, and many others have done it better than I could even if I knew more and had been there longer.

But, I can give some brief info on the things that were best in a really short visit. If you are having to make some choices, reflecting the need for time trade-offs, here are some suggestions.

Do / Don't pairs

1. DO: Arc de Triomphe / Champs Elysees. Climb the stairs on the Arc, and get a great view of Paris, including the Tour Eiffel. Then walk along the Champs Elysees, down toward the Place de la Concorde. Careful, though, no restaurants anywhere near the Place de la Concorde. Eat before, on the C.E., or later.

DON'T: Wait in line and climb the Eiffel Tower. Sure, it's pretty. But the view from the Arc is perhaps even better, because (1) the streets radiate out from that point, (2) you can SEE the Eiffel Tower from the Arc, and (3) the line for the Arc, is usually nothing, while the wait for the Tower can be 3 hours. If you have only a short trip, no way it is worth it to wait with all the other American and Canadian fanny-pack-and-Birkenstocks E-Tower crowd. Just say no.

2. DO: Go to the Picasso Museum for three hours (it opens at 9:30 am and is CLOSED on Tuesdays), have lunch, and then go to the Musee d'Orsay (CLOSED on MONDAYS, open late on Thursdays). If you visit each of those two museums, and spend three or fours hours each, you can actually see some really wonderful things. I happen to be very interested in Picasso, but even people who aren't (such as my good friend Duke Philosophy prof Alex Rosenberg) say that you should see the Picasso Museum to see the outline of change in art and society in the 20th century. A fine little museum. And the Musee d'Orsay is just outstanding. These two are a decent walk apart, or a pretty quick Metro ride.

DON'T: Go to the Louvre. Sure, you can go see "la Mademoiselle," and wander around the exhibits for a week, if you are a student of art history. But the Louvre is not really a museum, or even a collection of museums. The Louvre is a library of the history of visual arts, with a strong bias toward French works. That makes it invaluable for scholars, artists, and the truly knowledgeable. But it is overwhelming to the rest of us. If you only have a short time, give the Louvre a miss, unles there is a particular exhibit that interests you.

3. DO: Use the Metro. Just do it. It's not hard, and it is a big help. The "Information" guys at the stations are actually helpful. Here is a web site that has lots of information that I found useful.

DON'T: Take taxis, or walk too much. Either way is stressful. We took one taxi trip that was straight out of a movie. We wanted to get to a museum that was going to close soon (don't ask; it was my fault), and took a taxi at 5:05 pm on a weekday, in the medieval rabbit warrens of the 3rd Arrondissement. Now, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with that brilliant plan? Taxi driver did his best, fighting his way out to a main road, cutting across four lanes of traffic, pulling out into opposing traffic. He gave up, crossed the Seine, drove on the curb and the bus lane. Then he recrossed the Seine. Then we got stuck in REAL traffic and he told us to get out and run the rest of the way; it's hopeless. We made it to the museum, but... We also otherwise walked and walked and walked...and got too tired and grouchy. Plan your walks, with a map, along streets that are interesting, and take the Metro otherwise. It's Paris, not Bataan. And, if you do walk, carry bottles of water that you buy at groceries. You can get bottled water for 1 Euro at groceries, but drinks cost 3 Euros and up at cafes. Hard to stop "just for some water" without feeling ripped off.

4. DO: Take a boat ride on the Seine. Do it on the first day, in the afternoon. You get a better feel for geography, and history. And you get to sit down for a while, if you are tired of walking. Just admit you are a tourist, and take the Bateaux-Mouches route (an easy walk from the Champs Elysees or the Place de la Concorde). There's nothing sophisticated about it, but the boats leave every 20 minutes and you don't need to have a plan or reservations.

DON'T: Go to science museums, zoos, aquariums. They aren't very good, by American standards. Everything is written in French (that's fine, by the way, since it is IN FRANCE, but that doesn't mean non-French speakers will get anything out of it), and this is not the comparative advantage of Paris, anyway.

Finally, a lagniappe: The easiest and best triumvirate of things to see are on the Ile de la Cité. You've got the Conciergerie, the Saint-Chapelle, and Notre Dame cathedral. None of these is more than a five iron apart, even if you hit it fat. And a nice combo of interesting, beautiful, and informative. And plenty of places to eat or have a drink just across the river to the north, in the 4th Ar. part of the Marais.

More thoughts on a short trip to Paris: Paris in two days...

From Maggie Penn....

Quite an interesting article from Maggie Penn.

From Many, One: State Representation and the Construction of an American Identity

Elizabeth Penn
Journal of Theoretical Politics, July 2009, Pages 343-364

I present a formal model of the effect of political representation on the formation of group identities using the drafting of the United States Constitution as a case study. I first show the presence of `factions', or groups with competing interests, to be beneficial in forging a national identity. Next, I use this model to argue that the Great Compromise succeeded as more than a political maneuver to ensure ratification of the Constitution; it created a political environment in which an American national identity could emerge. I find that representation schemes that ignore group distinctions and use the individual as the basic unit of political representation may induce individuals to embrace a group-based notion of identity. Conversely, acknowledging group distinctions by using the group as a unit of political representation may induce individuals to embrace a more universalistic conception of identity, and thus may make group distinctions less salient.

(Nod to Kevin L)

A Provocative Thought

A loyal reader sends the following email:

If I were President Obama, I would be hoping for a Republican takeover of Congress in the 2010 elections. And not just any takeover, but a takeover by hard-core fiscal conservatives. Here's why:

(1) If the current Democrat-controlled Congress cannot pass Obama's core agenda before the 2010 elections, then it probably never will, especially in the context of persistent deficits. Meanwhile, as pundits have noted before, it's hard to blame the other party for policy outcomes when the other party has very little power.

(2) If, as I (and others like Niall Ferguson, Richard Haass, and Fareed Zakaria) fear, we may be entering a Dark Age of the modern era -- a decades long period of stagnation and retrenchment -- then our best hope is to accelerate the timeframe for a wholesale, draconian reinvention of the social contract. This, in turn, requires precipitating a fundamental political crisis, and it seems like the best chance for this in the near term is a no-holds-barred government-shutdown battle after a
fiscal-conservative sweep in the 2010 elections.

This is quite an interesting thought. And, it is precisely for an analogous reason that I am glad that the Prez and Congress are both Dem-controlled. I think they WILL pass the Obama program. And I think that THAT will cause a government shutdown battle, because of the deficit and huge new taxes that will be "required" (always, this "required" thing, for tyranny).

Either way, not an optimistic view....

Wisdom and Ethics

The Wisdom of Many in One Mind: Improving Individual Judgments With
Dialectical Bootstrapping

Stefan Herzog & Ralph Hertwig
Psychological Science, February 2009, Pages 231-237

The "wisdom of crowds" in making judgments about the future or other unknown events is well established. The average quantitative estimate of a group of individuals is consistently more accurate than the typical estimate, and is sometimes even the best estimate. Although individuals' estimates may be riddled with errors, averaging them boosts accuracy because both systematic and random errors tend to cancel out across individuals. We propose exploiting the power of averaging to improve estimates generated by a single person by using an approach we call dialectical bootstrapping. Specifically, it should be possible to reduce a person's error by averaging his or her first estimate with a second one that harks back to somewhat different knowledge. We derive conditions under which dialectical bootstrapping fosters accuracy and provide an empirical demonstration that its benefits go
beyond reliability gains. A single mind can thus simulate the wisdom of many.


No Harm, No Foul: The Outcome Bias in Ethical Judgments

Francesca Gino, Don Moore & Max Bazerman Harvard Working Paper, April 2009

We present six studies demonstrating that outcome information biases ethical judgments of others' ethically-questionable behaviors. In particular, we show that the same behaviors produce more ethical condemnation when they happen to produce bad rather than good outcomes, even if the outcomes are determined by chance. Our studies show that individuals judge behaviors as less ethical, more blameworthy, and punish them more harshly, when such behaviors led to undesirable consequences, even if they saw those behaviors as acceptable before they knew its consequences. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that a rational, analytic mindset can override the effects of one's intuitions in ethical judgments. Implications for both research and practice are discussed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Opinion and Persuasion

Can you imagine Lee Epstein and Richard Posner in the same room.

Nope. I can't.

Inferring the Winning Party in the Supreme Court from the Pattern of Questioning at Oral Argument

Lee Epstein, William Landes & Richard Posner University of Chicago Working
Paper, May 2009

Chief Justice John Roberts, and others, have noticed that the lawyer in an oral argument in the Supreme Court who is asked more questions than his opponent is likely to lose the case. This paper provides rigorous statistical tests of that hypothesis and of the related hypothesis that the number of words per question asked, as distinct from just the number of questions asked, also predicts the outcome of the case. We explore the theoretical basis for these hypotheses. Our analysis casts light on competing theories of judicial behavior, which we call the 'legalistic' and the 'realistic.' In the former, the questioning of counsel is a search for truth; in the latter, it is a strategy for influencing colleagues. Our
analysis helps to distinguish between these hypotheses by relating questioning practices to the individual Justice’s ideology and to the role of a 'swing' Justice.


Strategies for Revising Judgment: How (and How Well) People Use Others'

Jack Soll & Richard Larrick
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, May
2009, Pages 780-805

A basic issue in social influence is how best to change one's judgment in response to learning the opinions of others. This article examines the strategies that people use to revise their quantitative estimates on the basis of the estimates of another person. The authors note that people tend to use 2 basic strategies when revising estimates: choosing between the 2 estimates and averaging them. The authors developed the probability, accuracy, redundancy (PAR) model to examine the relative effectiveness of these two strategies across judgment environments. A surprising result was that averaging was the more effective strategy across a wide range of commonly encountered environments. The authors observed that despite this finding, people tend to favor the choosing strategy. Most participants in these studies would have achieved greater accuracy had they always averaged. The identification of intuitive strategies, along with a formal analysis of when they are accurate, provides a basis for examining how effectively people use the judgments of others. Although a portfolio of strategies that includes averaging and choosing can be highly effective, the authors argue that people are not generally well adapted to the environment in terms of strategy selection.

Confidence and Overconfidence

This is interesting. I have always been overconfident. In fact, I brag about my skills at tasks that I actually know I am not very good at. (Ask Angus about the Putt-Putt incident, which is just one of many...)

Now I find out I can blame my dad? Excellent.

Forgetting We Forget: Overconfidence and Memory

Keith Marzilli Ericson
Harvard Working Paper, February 2009

Do individuals have unbiased beliefs, or are they over- or underconfident? Overconfident individuals may fail to prepare optimally for the future, and economists who infer preferences from behavior under the assumption of unbiased beliefs will make mistaken inferences. This paper documents overconfidence in a new domain, prospective memory, using an experimental design that is more robust to potential confounds than previous research. Subjects chose between smaller automatic payments and larger payments they had to remember to claim at a six-month delay. In a large sample of college and MBA students at two different universities, subjects make choices that imply a forecast of a 76% claim rate, but only 53% of subjects actually claimed the payment.


Heritability of Overconfidence

David Cesarini, Magnus Johannesson, Paul Lichtenstein & Björn Wallace
Journal of the European Economic Association, April 2009, Pages 617-627

Empirical evidence suggests that people on average overestimate their own ability in a variety of circumstances. Little is known, however, about the origins of such overconfidence. To shed some light on this issue, we use the classic twin design to estimate the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in overconfidence. We collect data on overconfidence among 460 twin pairs. Overconfidence is measured as the difference between the perceived and actual rank in cognitive ability. Cognitive ability is measured using a 20-minute test of general intelligence. We find a highly significant joint effect of genes and common environment, but our estimates of the relative contributions of genetic and common environmental variation are less precise. According to our point estimates, genetic differences explain 16–34% of the variation in overconfidence depending on the definition of overconfidence used and common environmental differences explain 5–11%.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Problem with being an Economist....

So...Monday morning this week. We are in Paris, ready to go out for a big day. We get up, breakfast hearty at the hotel buffet (croissants....yum. Coffee, yogurt, fruit...a fine start).

And then we go out to try to catch a taxi. Now, it is June, which means tourists, and it is raining hard. We wait for a taxi for 20 minutes, at the taxi stand. Two other people are in front of us in line. One leaves, giving up. We decide to try to take the Metro. But after walking 30 meters, a taxi stops when we wave!

We start to get in. But I look back, and the woman who had been ahead of us in line (I would guess she was 70) has taken two steps toward us, and is now standing, staring. We can't seriously be going to steal a taxi from an old woman, right? On a rainy day? The LMM, who has gotten into the cab, gets out, leaving the door open for the lady. I wave to her, and the woman smiles and walks quickly over. She nods to acknowledge the gesture. All fine. Except that:

1. The cab driver pulls up, after the lady gets in. He rolls down his window, and yells at my wife for leaving the door open. The LMM is just mystified, as am I. I guess I don't expect credit for doing the right thing, and letting the other lady take the cab. But to get yelled at? True, leaving the door open meant he couldn't take off. But that's his problem. And, the elderly woman did in fact get into the cab, through that very open door. And it wasn't raining that hard.

2. We are still stuck, cabless, in the rain. And the rain started to pick up. It is pretty miserable. How can the city be so messed up, that there aren't enough cabs? We have been waiting now for 30 minutes, and have pressed the "call" button a dozen times! This is obviously a poorly thought out system. We shouldn't have to fight with old ladies over taxis. There should be enough taxis. Clearly a market failure.

(Now, the problem with being an economist....)

The downside of understanding economics is that I know the truth. This is NOT a poorly thought out system, and it is not a market failure. It is a peak load problem. There couldn't possibly be enough profitable ride-fare opportunities to pay the average costs of enough taxis to satisfy demand on a rainy summer day in Paris. Many people in the city will be taking taxis, and of course all the Americans who are afraid of the Metro will be taking taxis, also. The answer is: Get....on..... the....Metro. It is underground, it is fast, and it goes everywhere. And if you say, "But I'd rather take a taxi," that's fine, but you have to recognize that since taxis are not allowed to raise their rates on rainy days there can't be, and normatively SHOULD not be, enough taxis to satisfy demand. Some other rationing mechanism (in this case queuing) has to take over.

So, I couldn't even complain. The Paris transport system is perfectly rational, if you accept the large subsidy that goest to Metro as rational. Darn it, nothing to whine about. I hate it when there is nothing to whine about.

Choosing "By the Bean"

An election tie is broken in Arizona.....

Had a great discussion in class the other day (my man, and frequenter commenter, Martin can attest to this) on the possibility, and perhaps even value, of random selection in politics.

The Greeks did it. Aristophanes mentions it in "The Birds," in fact. Plutarch mentions it also. Ditto Thucydides. Choosing "by the bean" was common.

The bad thing about choice by lot is that the elected official might not do what voters want. And the good thing, of course, is that the elected official might not take public money to do what some voters want.

(nod to RL)

Sixth Grade Photo

Just saw my sixth grade photo on Facebook. (Thanks, Jan S!)I'm the really handsome guy, orange shirt, back row, fourth from the left. Sorry, ladies (and guys), I'm already married.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The WHOLE book?"

I do have to mention that last week I asked my students in the "American Political Thought" course here in Erlangen to read all of the Thomas Paine's COMMON SENSE, and be ready to discuss it.

And one of the students actually said, "The WHOLE thing?"

COMMON SENSE is about 40 pages, if you print it in large type with generous borders.

Yes. The WHOLE thing. Lordy.

To be fair, there is clearly a different system here. The professor summarizes, argues, presents. The students read on their own. The idea that reading is required for class is apparently a bit unusual.


Two Days in Paris: TOO tiring

And probably dumb. We were there from Sunday evening (arriving 4:30 pm at the Paris Gare Est train station) through Wednesday morning (8:30 am flight out of Orly, on Air Berlin).

I have to go teach. So I can't really blog now.

But, if you want to know a restaurant that you might otherwise miss, may I suggest La Gitane. If you are a kidneys fan, I'd suggest the "Rognons de veau en cocotte." Remarkable. The YYM ordered grilled pig's trotter, but they were out already. Apparently they ran out at lunch. The old guys wait for grilled pig's foot day, every Tuesday, and chow down.

You have to have the onion soup. Embarrassing, but you have to. Such a naive tourist thing to order. But I have to give La Gitane credit. They did NOT do the usual horrible thing of an inch of cheese, roasted like a pizza. The onion soup was about....onions. Incredibly hot, very tasty, just enough bread and cheese to give a contrast.

And, though the restaurant emphasizes "Tradition," and "Cuisine bourgeoise," they were EXTREMELY willing to redo menu items to work with the LMM. The LMM is one of those, "I'd like a cheeseburger with fries. Hold the cheese, meat, bun, pickle. Oh, and hold the fries, too. Can you just give me some steamed broccoli, with tomatoes?" In other words, she rewrites the menu.

But the guy at La Gitane, though they were OUTRAGEOUSLY busy, was both patient and helpful, delivering a very pretty plate of steamed and sauteed vegetables that was nowhere on the menu. They added turnips, and green beans, and a fine large portion. The LMM was well pleased, though disgusted that I ate kidneys.

The desserts were extremely generous, and genuinely beautiful. Bringing them out elicited streams of French from cusomers (many of whom seemed local regulars), but I can recognize "Oh yes, Oh yes!" when I hear it.

La Gitane is on the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet (53) (that's the Motte Picquet Grenelle Metro stop, on the 6 or 8 trains, and it's close to other lines also), just west of the Ecole Militaire, at the south end of the Champs du Mars. So, if you are sick of the Tour Eiffel, have a seat and have some country food in the city. And have a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, at a sidewalk cafe. La Gitane is not cheap, but it is hardly expensive (30 Euro per person, if you have drinks or dessert, less if you are frugal). Much better than the other sort of tourist places we ate at. And of course the unintentional street theater is always worth looking at.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paris: Rain, Rain, Go Away

It was a rainy night in Paris
And I'm sittin' by the Seine
It's a pleasure to be soaking in
the European rain

And my belly's full of fancy food and wine
But I know that it's going to get me
Somewhere down the line

(Thanks to Billy Joel for that intro!)

Second day in Paris. Yesterday hotter than HADES. Nearly 30 c, muggy, dirty feeling, polluted. Not a good intro to the city of lights.

Took the ICE from Frankfurt; the cool thing about the ICE in France is that it HAULS ASS. 280km / hour plus. That is some moving your hiney down the road. From Saarbrucken to Paris is half the trip in terms of distance. In fact, MORE than half. But much much less than half the time.

We got into the Paris Est stop, and took a taxi. I swear I was questioning the whole decision to visit, for the first two kilometers. Not a good neighborhood, nothing there that says, "NOW you are in just the place you want to be." In fact, it was more like "NOW you are in a third world country with no traffic laws and little chance of escaping with your property intact."

Mr. Taxi man was defending us pretty well, though. Using the "French emergency brake" (ie, the horn) liberally, he got us out into busy traffic by the simple expedient of....simply pulling out into traffic. It is true that this show of bravado did cause traffic to stop, at the cost of many Commodore Hornblowers attacking us broadside. But our Mr. Taxi was unmoved...literally. He waited until there was an inch, and took a mile. And we were off, down footpaths and goatpaths.

We got to our hotel, after learning that the idea of "stop" and "lane" have not really arrived in Paris. Not that we were complaining, since we were big fans of the "getting out" idea. And, when we did get out, we found our hotel was....odd.

But that is a story for tomorrow. Tomorrow is the rainiest day in the history of the world. Or at least the rainiest day this month.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Binh Minh in Frankfurt

Had a first rate dinner last night. Some (three) fine hefeweizen at the hotel, talking to the other conference participants. A really terrific group of folks, very diverse, with interesting backgrounds.

Then, off to Binh Minh, a Vietnamese restaurant, on Ostendstrasse. It is SUCH a tourist cliche, but I have to say it: The soups. Lord, the Vietnamese soups are good. You just can't go wrong. At our table, as for entrees, I'd say the duck was perhaps a little dry, but good. The seafood dishes were good, the vegetables wonderful, and my slurpy "Big Boy" bowl of noodles (the restaurant didn't call it that, but Hartmut Kliemt DID call it that, and my table gleefully took up the cry) was just fine.

I got to walk back with Tony de Jasay, who doesn't see well. He took my arm, to steady himself on the cobblestones and curbs. We had the most delightful talk. What a great guy. Some people are just overwhelming, without trying to be. Tony is nearly blind, and nearly deaf, and still WAY more interesting and charming than I am.

The Lovely Ms. Mungowitz, and the Younger Younger Munger, arrived here in Frankfurt without incident. They are upstairs having some well-deserved naps in our hotel rooms. Tonight: I buy the YYM his first legal bier. And we all go out to dinner. It should be fun. We are crossing the river Main, and going to the art museum....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Her name is Rio

But it's pronounced " hee-ou"!!

Mrs A and I are here enjoying the city and the glorious clusterf"&@k that is LASA.

The line to pick up conference materials for preregistered and prepaid participants was about a kilometer long. The average distance from a conference hotel to the conference site is about an $8 cab ride. It's also weird to hear so much Spanish and English being spoken in this place.

Brazilian Portugese is a beautiful language to hear, but pretty hard to understand, at least for this SSL'er.

Sunday we head inland

Whoa! I need help: What to do in Paris?

All right, internationalista KPC fans. The Mungowitzei need some help, here. What are we going to do in Paris?

Check this weather forecast: We will be there for two full days, Monday and Tuesday....

Monday: Heavy rain, local flooding, thunderstorms, high of 23 C

Tuesday: Heavy continuous rain, extensive local flooding, high of 24 C

Not a lot of walking. Apart from the obvious (i.e., art museums), what should we see in the monsoons of Paris?

Sports Roundup....

I don't have tv back in Erlangen, so I'm pretty darned excited about having CNN international and BBC World News TV here in Frankfurt. No one is better informed than KPC readers, of course, but permit me to give a world sports roundup.

1. Ronaldo to Real Madrid? Really? Un segundo Galáctico? To go with the unfortunately named Kaká? I can't think of any sports figure in the U.S., in any sport, whose move would cause such a furor. I do suggest that we start calling overpaid and underperforming U.S. baseball stars "Galácticos," however. An excellent form of snidery.

2. A wide variety of frenetic light-skinned ectomorphic males scampered across different courts pursuing a fuzzy yellow ball. There are some people who care. I have to admit I don't.

3. A wide variety of different genetic freaks, of many different skin hues and nationalities, scampered around a wood court pursuing an orange leather ball. They play by the same rules as used by the World Wrestling Federation, based on your stature as a player. If Kobe ("Galactico") Bryant misses a shot, the refs call a foul. If a lesser player makes a shot, the refs call a charge. The crowd cheers for their favorites, and the outcome is decided in advance by the participants, and executed in barely disguised choreographed fakery. By comparison, tennis is an interesting sport.

And...that's it for World Sport. Back to Christiana Amanpour for her report on the Iranian election being held today.


A big day in local news here

A pretty big day in local news here in Germany.

1. Boy hit by meteor on way to school. (Really, I think, though the comments here do make it me wonder if this is simply a hoax....).

2. Archeologists dig up 800 year old shoe. (I hope it is not the last....)

3. The Neo-Nazi NPD is picking up seats and votes in local elections. The key issue is opposition to foreigners from the Middle East and from Central Europe. To show you how big an idiot I am, I went to the NPD web site, thinking that they might have an "English" button. But why would they? That would be like the American "English Only" people having a button for "En Espanol."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What de Jasay?

I am in Frankfurt for a Liberty Fund Conference, on the writings of the estimable Anthony Jasay. (You have to like the modesty of the web site: "You should find visiting [the web site] both stimulating and instructive." It is always useful when people give you instructions on what your reactions should be. Saves you having to think independently, which can be both tiring and...how to put this.....well, people might otherwise get stuff wrong.

And, Ms. Mungowitz will be here Saturday. Then....Paris.

Staying at the Steigenberger Hotel in Frankfurt City. Got here on the DBahn, and I have to admit it went well. Very crowded, but early on both trains, and since I had a reserved sitplatz, with a table, I enjoyed the trip. It is not as interesting when things go well, I admit. But since I have been so whiny, I should also acknowledge that this trip was excellent.

Delta WiFi

Delta plans to have WiFi on all its flights!

$10 for less than three hours, $12 for longer flights.

That is really pretty great, from my perspective. But how will they handle:

1. Access to power? Or will everybody have to bring extra batteries? That's
a lot of extra weight, and some fire risk.

2. Censoring content? Apparently, they are going to censor dirty stuff, stuff they think is dirty (I hope they cut out Keith Olbermann), and any kind of VOIP. There may be an arms race between cat and mouse. I guess this means Delta will be taking lessons from China on how to restrict internet sites. Ick.

3. Security? Sitting right there, so close, for hours. An enterprising scammer can buy tickets just for the purpose of stealing stuff, if it is all wireless.

Still, this would be very, very good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Owie! Richard Feynman dishes

Nod to Mel

Thinking About Obama Doesn't Make Me Smarter, But Living in Germany Might....

The Obama Effect: An Experimental Test

Joshua Aronson, Sheana Jannone, Matthew McGlone & Tanisha Johnson-Campbell
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Past research on stereotype threat and role model effects, as well as a recent quasi-experiment (Marx, Ho, & Freidman, this issue) suggested the possibility of an "Obama effect" on African American's standardized test performance, whereby the salience of Barack Obama's stereotype defying success could positively impact performance. We tested this reasoning in a randomized experiment with a broad sample of college students from across the country. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that students prompted to think about Barack Obama prior to taking a difficult standardized verbal test would improve their performance relative to white students, and to African American students in control conditions that were not prompted to think about Obama. Our results did not support this hypothesis. Test scores were unaffected by prompts to think about Obama and no relationship was found between test performance and positive thoughts about Obama, a disconfirmation of both the findings and conclusions of the Marx, Ho, and Freidman study.


Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity

William Maddux & Adam Galinsky
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2009, Pages 1047-1061

Despite abundant anecdotal evidence that creativity is associated with living in foreign countries, there is currently little empirical evidence for this relationship. Five studies employing a multimethod approach systematically explored the link between living abroad and creativity. Using both individual and dyadic creativity tasks, Studies 1 and 2 provided initial demonstrations that time spent living abroad (but not time spent traveling abroad) showed a positive relationship with creativity. Study 3 demonstrated that priming foreign living experiences temporarily enhanced creative tendencies for participants who had previously lived abroad. In Study 4, the degree to which individuals had adapted to different cultures while living abroad mediated the link between foreign living experience and creativity. Study 5 found that priming the experience of adapting to a foreign culture temporarily enhanced creativity for participants who had previously lived abroad. The relationship between living abroad and creativity was consistent across a number of creativity measures (including those measuring insight, association, and generation), as well as with masters of business administration and undergraduate samples, both in the United States and Europe, demonstrating the robustness of this phenomenon.

The Contemporary Presidency: Decision Making in the Bush White House

James Pfiffner Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2009, Pages 363-384

The White House Office is so large and complex that a systematic process of policy evaluation is essential in order to provide the president with a range of options on all important policy decisions. Some of the most important decisions that President George W. Bush made in his first term were taken without the benefit of broad deliberation within the White House or cabinet. This article will take up four cases of policy decisions to illustrate the lack of a regular policy process and consultation that characterized many important decisions of the Bush Administration. Two focus on detainee policy: the military commissions order of November 13, 2001, and the February 7, 2002, decision to suspend the Geneva Conventions. And two are about the war in Iraq: the initial decision to go to war and the decision to disband the Iraqi army. The pattern that emerges from an examination of these four decisions is one of secrecy, top-down control, tightly held information, disregard for the judgments of career professionals, and the exclusion from deliberation of qualified executive branch experts who might have disagreed with those who initially framed the decisions.


The persuasiveness of the straw man rhetorical technique

George Bizer, Shirel Kozak & Leigh Ann Holterman Social Influence, July
2009, Pages 216-230

The straw man technique takes place when an opponent's argument or position is distorted or oversimplified so that it can easily be refuted. Two experiments assessed the technique's effectiveness. Participants read two passages ostensibly written by two people competing for a public office, the second of which did or did not include a straw man argument. In Experiment 1, participants led to believe that the office was of low personal relevance were more persuaded by the straw man technique. In Experiment 2, participants low in need for structure were less persuaded when a candidate used the technique. Our research therefore suggests that whereas the straw man may be effective when motivation to elaborate is low, the technique may be unsuccessful or even backfire when such motivation is high.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Roland the headless Thompson gunner*

Even though we are about to leave for Brazil, I have recently finished reading 4 books about the Congo. All are good, two especially so.

1. King Leopold's Ghost. 

Excellent book about Leopold, Stanley, the operations of the "Congo Free State" and the people who tried to expose it. Highly recommended.

2. Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the cold war in a hot zone. 

Interesting account of the events around independence, the murder of Lumumba and the rise of Mobutu. Marred however, by the author's repeated attempts to portray himself as a combination of Gary Cooper, Jackie Chan, & Jesus.

3. In the footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the brink of disaster in Mobutu's Congo.

Documents, on the macro level, the corruption machine that was Mobutu. Tries to do Kremlinology, Congo style, on his courtiers and family. The whole Mr. Kurtz tie in was strained as was the tact of starting at the end before jumping back to the beginning. I struggled a bit to finish this one. I did like very much the idea that the reign of Leopold paved the way for the reign of Mobutu that the author argues for passionately.

4. Facing the Congo.

First person account of an American's quest to descend the Congo river on a pirogue "solo" (quotes because he ends up with a guide and a soldier). This was my favorite of the bunch. It puts you inside what Leopold + Mobutu had created in the Congo and doesn't let you out. The book puts in the human side that book #3 really glosses over.
Probably best read last if you are going to read any of the others. Gets Angus's highest recommendation.

*(he killed to earn a living and to help out the Congolese)

Requiring Information, Allowing Choice

An interesting question for Libertariana: Should accurate, consistent food labelling be required? This argument for consistent labelling, in the EU, makes some sense. Many people have allergies, some of them deadly. My nephew has an extreme nuts (and other stuff) allergy. Angus himself has some food issues. (I have some issues, including my "see food" diet, but labelling won't help that much). Should contents be listed clearly and accurately, and should the state prosecute deviations? One big problem, as described in the article, is nuts.

Or should we (quoting Tony McCaullife, responding to the demands from General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz
that he surrender Bastogne, on December , 1945) just say:


(Nod to Warden, who knows things)

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Interview with El Mercurio

El Mercurio had some questions about Barack Obama.

And, did I have answers? You bet I did.

El considerable aumento del gasto fiscal ya no sólo pone nerviosos a los partidarios de un gobierno reducido, con una mínima intervención en la economía, coinciden expertos. Cada vez son más los temores de que la carga en las finanzas federales termine por empeorar la situación, especialmente para la clase media.

Pero, "en este momento, los estadounidenses quieren creer en el programa de Obama. Ha hecho un buen trabajo mostrando su "estampa presidencial". Y la gente simplemente ama a la Primera Dama, Michelle. Así es que pienso que tiene otros seis meses para tratar de hacer más cambios", apunta el especialista de la Universidad de Duke, Michael Munger.


What If They Had an Election, and Nobody Cared?

Germany (along with most of the rest of the countries incontinent) had an election on Sunday. The tension and excitement were....nonexistent.

I have to admit, I like that. Having an election where nobody really cares what happens is a good sign, because it means that the level of government theft and corruption is relatively stable. The problem with the U.S. election of 2008 was that the prospects for really Rococo theft was enormous, regardless of who won. (And, so it has turned out).

So, here is the tale-o-th'tape:

CDP/CSU alliance, led by GWB backrub victim Angela Merkel: 38%, down from nearly 45% in the 2004 version. A creditable performance for what is in effect a midterm election for a rulilng party.

The SPD "Vote for us, and we will give you other people's money!" party led by...well, "SPD Leadership" is an oxymoron. Anyway, they actually LOST votes compared to 2004, a remarkably inept performance. As Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “This is a disappointing result -- there’s no talking our way out of it.” Disappointing? That's like saying the Titanic had a little leak. The most likely explanation for the SPD pratfall is low turnout, but since the SPD was hoping to capitalize on unhappiness with the economy, the low turnout is the FAULT of the SPD. If people didn't care enough to go vote, they can't be very upset, or else they think that the SPD doesn't have the answer.

FDP, the "Party of Dentists", the self-styled "Liberal" (in the Euro sense) group, did very well, knocking back 11%, a pick-up of nearly 5% from 2004. But there the low turnout helped (rich college educated people ALWAYS vote). So the big percentage for FDP simply means that the denominator wasn't very big. No reason to believe that that 11% is a hard number, in forecasting the September 27 German Bundestag elections. If FDP can get 10% or more there, it would be a miracle. It would also mean that Angela Merkel and the CDP would be able to partner with FDP, and form government on the liberal center-right. Don't hold your breath, though, not likely unless turnout is unexpectedly low on September 27.

The fruits (Green Party) and nuts (der Linke) squabbled and bickered their way to 12% and 7.5%, respectively. Both of those totals are basically the same as in 2004, allowing for changing "freak of the month" leadership on the hard left. (Der Linke is the conservative, "restore the petty Communists to power" party in the East, and the far left party in the West. Must make for interesting strategy meetings....I do enjoy the "Dear Comrade" thing)

Turnout was 43%. More important, there was no campaign, at least not by American standards. A couple of posters on some signboards, and a few people in tents, handing out literature in a desultory way.

But no one really seems to care about EU elections. I like that in a country: turnout should be ZERO, in a properly functioning democracy where threats to liberty and property are minimized.

(The 2004 results)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

GOAT parade

Roger Federer wins the French Open, completing his career slam and tying Pete Sampras with 14 majors. He didn't have to beat Murray, Djokovic, or Nadal, but he beat everyone they put in front of him and is now clearly tennis' GOAT.

Eldrick Woods comes from 4 behind, shooting 65 to win the Memorial tourney with two incredible approach shots on 17 and 18. He is also tied with Sampras and Fed with 14 slams, and even though he needs 18 to tie Jack Nicklaus, I am gonna go way out on a limb and say Tiger is golf's GOAT.


If they are yelling at the same kids, they must be married

It's been posted a number of places, for years, but if you haven't seen it, here are some "quotes" (which could be real) from first-named sources. But, even if they are made up, they made me laugh.

"MARRIAGE"...as explained by kids
-You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming. -- Alan, age 10
-No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with. -- Kristen, age 10
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then. -- Camille, age 10
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. -- Derrick, age 8
Both don't want any more kids. -- Lori, age 8
-Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. -- Lynnette, age 8
-On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date. -- Martin, age 10
-When they're rich. -- Pam, age 7
-The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that. - - Curt, age 7
-The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do. - - Howard, age 8
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys . Boys need someone to clean up after them.
-- Anita, age 9
There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there? -- Kelvin, age 8
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck. -- Ricky, age 10